Saturday, November 30, 2013

From Shih-Li Kow's new novel

The Millers Go Fishing
(This is an extract from the next book -- a novel -- by Shih-Li Kow which will be released soon.)

Shi-Li imageAt nine in the morning, the Millers bustled about making their presence felt. They shouted their good mornings and complimented Beevi on the greasy noodle breakfast. The quality of Beevi’s cooking was capricious; I suspected it echoed her mood, bland when she was bored, over-flavoured when stressed, and near inedible when she was in a sulk. The cooking of a Beevi at rest, in equilibrium, was a mystery.

The Millers told her that they were off to see the three lakes. I had arranged for them to pay Ismet to take them out, and Mr Miller wanted to fish. Mrs Miller said with an exaggerated sigh, “I will be so bored, but he does like to fish.” I was the fourth person in this fishing party. Too many weeks had gone by since I was last out on the water and I looked forward to the trip. I was accustomed to Ismet’s company, but I had to endure the other two.

We drove out to the jetty in the Millers’ rented Myvi.  Mr Miller wanted to drive and hunched into the driver’s seat with the car fitting around him like an armoured matchbox. A large man like him should have picked a bigger car. I imagined Peggy Miller at the rent-a-car counter in the airport, standing beside her trolley bags, saying, “Aw, honey. We gotta rent ourselves a little May-lay-sian car. We gotta see for ourselves how bad it drives.”  To be fair, I hardly knew Mrs Miller, and certainly not well enough to be foisting these assumptions on her. She was probably a perfectly nice woman, but, well, I just did not like her face. As long as I did not tell her that, we could keep up pretences of hospitality.

The further away from town we drove, the narrower the roads became, until there was no curb and the scrub grew right up to the verge of the tarmac. “Turn left there, after the signboard,” Ismet said and pointed at a faded sign put up by the Ministry of Cultural Diversity, Heritage and Tourism, exhorting eco-tourism. “Fourth Wife Lake. Discover the Natural Wonders of Malaysia,” it said. Someone had sprayed a black line of paint over ‘Wonders’ and written ‘Wankers’ over it. I found it mildly funny. It was not a common word spoken in Lubok Sayong, let alone seen in writing.

We got off the road onto a path rutted by motorcycles that ran the half kilometre to the lakes. This was edged by a wall of weed on both sides, so tall that some feathered tips bent over to dust the top of our car. Some had been flattened, perhaps by a car before us that had to make way for another, and long broken blades lay injured on the ground. We churned up old mud, and heard the occasional clod of laterite thud against our undercarriage. Mrs Miller, seated with me in the back, was uncomplaining and took the heat and bumps in good spirit.

Mr Miller laughed and said, “Here we go. Parting the green sea.” He slowed for Mrs Miller to take a picture.

We saw the hill first. The cliff rose up ahead, a monolithic, chalky limestone mass with dense dark trees. Then the lakes came into sight, blackish green and unreflective despite the stillness of the water. Where you would have expected a mirror, reflecting a dilute blue sky with cobweb clouds floating on its surface, there was none. Fourth Wife Lake swallowed all reflections and offered no such prettiness. There was a slight murmur of rain, but the sun took over and the rain clouds held back their incontinence, obedient before the daylight and the patron saint of anglers. If there was any threat of rain, I sensed it in the fullness of the lake rather than the sky.

When we reached the jetty, we saw a few motorcycles parked haphazardly on the grass like grazing animals. Our hired craft, a tourist boat that took visitors on a loop of the lake, was waiting. For ten ringgit, one put on a grimy life-vest, sat on one of the eight plastic seats that collected water to wet unsuspecting bottoms, and got up close below the limestone crags to see the dark, yawning maws of the caves. An outcrop with a lone bush jutting out from the cliff wall had become something to point at, and say, “There’s where the princess jumped,” a nice highlight to the story.

With few tourists, the boat was hardly used. Mrs Miller seemed to know what she had to do. She took a towel out of her bag and dried her seat. Then, she applied mosquito repellent on her arms. Husband and wife both slipped on the life-vests hanging next to their seats.

Ismet gunned the engine and took the boat on a big showy curve. A crescent wave fanned out behind us. The men fishing on the banks waved and forgave the noise we were making. Mrs Miller waved back, smiling. We made a sweep near the limestone for the Millers to take photographs. I was in no mood to do the tour-guide babble, so I kept my mouth shut, and pretended to inspect my rods and buckets. I did not point at the outcrop, and I ignored Ismet when he looked at me. His English was not good enough to narrate the whole story of the princess and the cad, but I was not talking that day. If I talked, those tourists would talk back, and I wanted to fish, not make polite noises and play the simpering native.

I had a plastic tub of crickets and worms for bait. I also had some chicken skin seasoned with fish food that I wanted to try out. It was an idea I borrowed from Swamp People, those alligator hunters I watched on Astro. We had a spare fishing rod for Mr Miller. Ismet took the boat out to the middle of the lake, into the shade the cliffs cast upon the water, and cut the engine. Mrs Miller pulled out a book from her bag.

Mr Miller took up his position at the prow and shed his life-vest that was making him sweat. I saw that his shirt was thoroughly wet, the damp circles that started at his armpits becoming indistinguishable from the rest of his shirt. I sat at the back with a bucket and my bait. With a reverent anticipation of pleasure, I switched off my mobile phone.  In recent years, telecommunications signals had improved so much that we could receive calls out in the middle of the lake. Instead of air and sky overhead and the purity of space beyond, we lived beneath a new sheltering sky of invisible waves carrying conversations, packets of data transfer and millions of pornographic downloads. It was an unpleasant thought that reminded me of dying cells and cancers.

I waved my phone at Ismet. He said, “Already put my phone on silent, bro.”


I strung an earthworm with a tag of chicken skin and cast it, my heartbeat slowing as I settled into the wait. I loved fishing for the meditative stupor that came with the wait. There were not many things for which I professed enduring love. Fishing was one of the few, and it had become better now with time no longer a luxury. Much like, or maybe even more life affirming, than a leisurely act of copulation when there was no clock ticking.

The silence was bone deep and rich with solitary pleasure. There was an occasional hoot of howler monkeys, a flutter of a bird in the trees, a call that echoed off the cliff and the vibration of insects, tremulous and unseen. The water was grey green, clear and clean, but I could not see through the depths. It was like trying to peer through tinted glass and seeing only shadows and reflections.

The boat bobbed gently and I lost sense of time. I sank into the familiar motion and forgot Ismet, the woman flipping the pages of her book, and the man in the front turning red in the sun.

No one spoke to me. I did not know if Ismet or Mr Miller caught anything. I simply drifted. Occasionally I drew the line in, changed the bait and cast it out again, gently, ever so gently with a short swing of arm and a flick of wrist. There was a bank of lotuses in bloom by the far side of the lake. The flowers were wide open, pink, tall and extravagantly beautiful. No one was harvesting lotus roots; they were unmolested.

I caught a toman and a small ikan hantu that I unhooked and threw back into the water. I glanced over at Ismet. He squatted on a seat, with his sleeves pulled up over his shoulders, typing text messages on his mobile phone with two thumbs. His fishing rod was wedged between the seats. Mrs Miller had her book face down, splayed on her lap. Her wide-brimmed straw hat shielded her eyes as she dozed peacefully.

“Holy shit,” Mr Miller said suddenly. His line went taut. He fought and loosened, reeling in a fish. I watched him brace, shifting his weight back, rocking the boat a little. His movements were smooth and practiced.

The lake had yielded some big ones before, the biggest I had seen being the toman hooked by Cikgu Teh in a fishing competition a few years ago. He still carried a picture of it in his wallet. Mr Miller reeled in one revolution and lifted the curving rod. The fish fought under water, straining against the pull, but we could not see it yet.

Mr Miller said, “It’s a monster, guys. Real big.”

Ismet stopped to watch. Mrs Miller took out her camera and started taking photographs.  Mr Miller put a foot up on the step at the prow and leaned back.

“Honey …” Mrs Miller started. Before she could finish, he was in the water with a shout. Ismet rushed forward, ready to dive in. We saw Mr Miller surface, bobbing in the water, waving and grinning. His glasses were still on his face. Ismet threw out the lifesaver and we all started laughing, even Mrs Miller.

Mr Miller shouted from the water, “Sorry guys, I lost the line and the fish. Isn’t this something to tell the folks back home?”

We laughed until we saw a moving ripple in the water, travelling towards Mr Miller.

“Get out,” Ismet shouted.

Fear gripped me, hollowing my gut. Ismet leaned over and stretched an arm out. “Quick, quick,” he shouted. Mr Miller swam with his head above water. He was two strokes from the boat, a silly smile splitting his face. I could not see what was below the ripple, but it was fast, heading straight for the man like a homing missile. I looked around for something, anything, to throw at the thing that was coming. There was nothing at hand except Mrs Miller’s book and shoes that she had slipped off her feet.

“Quick,” Ismet yelled. The fish reared, exposing a long snout on an impossibly long body. “Get out! Hurry!”

Mrs Miller screamed, her finger still on the camera shutter-release button. Mr Miller waved at her with one arm, still grinning. A blank look on his face replaced his toothy smile when he was lifted out of the water, elevated by the snout between his legs. I flung the book at the fish, but I could not tell if I hit it at all. I threw the shoe and it bounced off its body. Mr Miller’s arms windmilled and he fell backwards. The water roiled, the long body of the fish snaked a curve that churned the water into froth and he went under.

The water closed over him, and he never surfaced again.

Peggy Miller screamed again, this time an awful, many-layered sound that stayed with me for years. We watched the water from our rocking boat, but there was nothing except a growing stillness as the water calmed itself. The red lifesaver floated, marking the spot he went under like a tombstone. I heard my heart pounding in my ears and later, its slowing brought a sense of shame. I had been afraid, but the fear had been selfish, a fear for me, of the boat being overturned and my body joining Mr Miller’s, and my fate tied to his with the creature in the water. I had reacted out of self-preservation; I had no recollection of any intention to save Mr Miller. I wanted only to stop the monster from getting close to me. My relief at being in the boat, unharmed, was tainted by the discomfort of guilt. I could have jumped in to save him from the fish, but I did not.

Something like rain fell. Rain that seemed to rise from the lake to water the sky.

Mrs Miller remained sedated for two days. My condolences and offer for assistance fell on drugged ears. She asked to move out of the Big House. The old furniture, she said, held death in them. She moved into one of the rooms above Hemingway’s and her daughter flew in to take her home.

ASP Sevaraja, who had a well-trained nose for gossip, as a sommelier’s for wine, told us that Mr Miller had had three wives before Peggy. The legend of Fourth Wife Lake gained a new life. Any man who had married four times and who dared brave the water would test the hatred of the lady of the lake; that, after Mr Miller, she had developed an appetite for male flesh. The Chinese princess had become a dragon fish.

“But no worries for you, Auyong. Not yet one-time married, eh?” ASP Sevaraja kidded.

“Everyone’s going to stop fishing for a few months. There is human flesh in the ecosystem. Are the navy divers going in?” I didn’t tell him that I doubted I could ever go back on the lake.

“No one is going in. We’ll try to dredge the bottom, but it might be too deep.” He showed me the pictures from Peggy Miller’s camera. Tim Miller had a look of astonishment on his face, as if some prankster had poured ice water on him. The serpentine fish was a silvery grey.

ASP Sevaraja said, “We sent the pictures to the wildlife department to identify the species. They think it’s an imported fish.”

“Are you going to try to catch it?” I asked.

“What for? Let it become famous like the Loch Ness Monster. We always like to be famous for stupid things, what? Anyway,” said ASP Sevaraja, “I have enough to do, catching two-legged monsters.”

I didn’t tell him the fish had a face I knew. It knew me, too. I saw it looking at me when I threw the book at it. It was the fish that Beevi had released during the floods two years ago. I didn’t tell Beevi, either. Somehow, an insensible balance told me that, to shield her from guilt, was to atone for mine. I assumed she would feel guilt, and my redemption was based on that assumption, but the balance worked. All I needed was to keep it hanging on that fulcrum for a year or two, maybe three, and it would fade from memory. It always did.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

My mother's milk ... part 3

by Fernando Rosa

I had watched a performance of Portuguese dance and music in Melaka. Almost all of the songs and the dances were from Portugal. Minha Rosinha was one of them, Casa Portuguesa Com Certeza was another (the titles mean respectively 'My Little Rose' and 'Surely a Portuguese Home'). They are both well-known songs. I am familiar with them from watching Portuguese folk dances on television as a child. I remember I usually changed channels after a minute or two, for I found the singing and dancing terribly tacky, and very un-Brazilian.

The most famous Portuguese singer in Brazil back then was Roberto Leal ('Loyal Robert' - it turns out it is a stage name). He usually donned a folk costume while he sang and danced. The costumes were also thoroughly Portuguese. (Interestingly, although he was Portuguese-born, he moved to Brazil as a child and had lived there. He was our own indigenised Portuguese folk dancer and singer. He was also the most famous Portuguese in Brazil. Nobody seems to care that he was also very much Brazilian).

This is what many anthropologists and historians call a clear case of invention of tradition: namely, none of it was around before the 1950s. The youngsters doing the dancing in Melaka seemed to do it correctly. One of the girls was very striking: she was tall, had bright green eyes and a beautiful smile. (I learned she died in a road accident, last year.) I was invited with several guests to take part in one of the dances. The green-eyed beauty came to me but I was reluctant to show off my astonishing lack of skill in Portuguese folk dancing. All the same, an Italian colleague urged me to get up and dance. I was a Brazilian after all, and fancy a Brazilian not being able to dance. Almost as weird as an Italian not gesticulating!

Several of the students - they were Malaysian Portuguese language students - also danced. The group was in fact performing not to the community but to a large group of students and staff from the University of Malaya. The venue was Papa Joe's restaurant that advertised Portuguese and Nyonya cuisine, as well as Chinese seafood (Papa Joe himself was one of the singers). I find the combination of Portuguese, Nyonya and Chinese seafood revealing: I have found local cuisine to be often related no matter what ethnic origins or labels that were attached to it. Rather than being in opposition, the three were part of the same culinary continuum.

During one intermission, I noticed the young men and women who were dancing, speaking to one another in Malay. Noel (my Portuguese-teacher friend) regrets deeply that it is not the government nor local non-Portuguese society who is undermining the community heritage; it is the community itself. Traditional feasts are not 'properly' carried out any more; traditions are discontinued, and the language is slowly but surely falling into disuse.

I muse that perhaps everything is changing, and very fast. Noel is very religious, like all the community elders I have spoken to so far. He easily goes off into a long tirade about morals and religion. I wonder how appealing that is for the younger generation. Also, the Portuguese community has always been an open group: the descendants of the Dutch in Melaka, for instance, also speak Portuguese and are often counted as members of the community. (I don't believe anybody speaks Dutch in Melaka any more). Noel still inveighs against the designation 'Eurasian' every now and then: his point is that it does not root people in any specific country, but is vague and general. It was a British colonial designation used by the community before it refashioned itself as Portuguese in the late colonial era. Noel must have been a teenager when the identity shift took place. I am not aware of anyone in Melaka who styles himself or herself as Eurasian. The point Noel hammers home again and again is that the community is Portuguese and as well as Lusophone (i.e. Portuguese-speaking).

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

My Mother's milk ... part 2

I muse that perhaps everything is changing and very fast. Noel is very religious like all the community elders I have spoken to so far. He easily goes off into a long tirade about morals and religion. I wonder how appealing that is for the younger generation. Also, the Portuguese community has always been an open group: the descendants of the Dutch in Melaka, for instance, also speak Portuguese and are often counted as members of the community (in fact, I don't believe anybody speaks Dutch in Melaka any more).

Noel still inveighs against the designation 'Eurasian' every now and then: his point is that it does not root people in any specific country but is vague and general. In fact, it is a British colonial designation used by the community before it refashioned itself as Portuguese in the late colonial era. Noel must have been a teenager when the identity shift took place. I am unaware of anyone in Melaka who styles himself or herself as Eurasian, and there is certainly no visible community that claims that identity now. The point Noel hammers home again and again is that the community is Portuguese and as well as Lusophone (i.e. Portuguese-speaking).

His point is important as far as the name of the language is concerned. He ridicules the appellation 'Pápia Kristang' often used for the language. To him 'kristang' is a religious identity, not a language. He says that the designation started in the Dutch times. To me it makes sense, as the Dutch East Indies Company did have an all-encompassing category of 'Christenen'. It was a complex category as it had a legal as well as a religious nature. It also included people who were not ethnically European or not only European.

Also, calling oneself and one's language 'Portuguese' during the Dutch era must have been slightly tricky as the Portuguese remained enemies of the Dutch - the Catholic church was officially suppressed in Dutch settlements - for quite a long time (the Dutch conquered Melaka in 1641; the Portuguese community's Church of São Pedro was only built in 1710).

Joti - a man from Penang, who long ago married a woman from Kampung Portugis and is fluent in the local language, told me that the language became Creolised (he says, meaning 'full of short forms') during the Dutch period, as locals tried to avoid the impression that they were speaking an enemy language. Hence, also the name of the language. There was also more to it: religious identity -- Catholicism -- that was obviously enormously important. In fact, the community moved to its current location due to the efforts of at least two priests - one French, the other Portuguese - to get the colonial government to give them land. The efforts eventually succeeded in the 1930s and the community then moved from its various previous locations - mainly in Tengkera -- to Kampung Portugis. Joti tells me that the land is still often called 'chang di padri' - the priest's land ('chão de padre' in my Portuguese).

My impression is that religion has therefore been a very important binding element in the community. For it is not only a Christian community in a Muslim-
majority country and in a city where (non-Christian) Chinese are dominant; it is also a minority Christian community within the varied and multi-denominational group of Melaka Christians itself. Besides, most Catholics in town don't count themselves as members of the community. (The other church in town, Saint Francis Xavier, was built in 1849 by French missionaries from Siam and south France, and is mainly a Chinese church today. Donations from as far away as Peru and the erstwhile Brazilian Empire went into its construction.)

It strikes me that one other thing that may have kept the community together is their comparative poverty (that used to be worse in earlier times). Incidentally, this is also something they have had in common with local Indians, a group with which they have obviously been closely associated, also through marriage. Some of the houses in the settlement in fact still look very modest. Part of the settlement is also made up of ugly blocks of public housing that probably can be found in every Malaysian city. Jorge, one of the elders, as well as Kátia - a social worker from Portugal who has just left the community to go back home - have told me that there are quite a few families in need, or who live very modestly.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

My mother's milk is expensive (Melakan Portuguese dilemma) -- Part 1

I spend an entire lazy afternoon in Kampung Portugis speaking in papiaçam -- the Creole Portuguese of Macau/Melaka -- with Noel Felix. With us is one of the few Portuguese-speaking young scholars of Malaysia. (She's not of Portuguese origin.)

Felix can speak for hours on end in front of his Carlsberg. As I heard him out, I realised the many complex paradoxes of being Portuguese in the Indian Ocean. For that's what Felix considers the Melakan Portuguese to be, besides being Portuguese-speaking Malaysian. They are not a Creole community; they are Portuguese and speak Portuguese, though of course he is aware that they are not European Portuguese, nor is the language the same as that of Portugal.

Felix says he speaks old Portuguese, not Creole. He has been to Portugal once. He has a daughter who once lived in Brazil and now speaks to him in Brazilian Portuguese. He does not mind. He finds Brazilian Portuguese and Melakan Portuguese to be very close. Or, at any rate, closer than either of them is to Portugal's Portuguese. (I have difficulty with this in its spoken forms. I would often ask friends in Macau to repeat what they had just said to me, sometimes twice, only to realise that I was unable to make it out. It would have been embarrassing to ask them to say it in English, of course.

In Melaka, I have difficulty following local Portuguese, but if I'm persistent and my interlocutor patient -- and Felix is patient -- then we manage to communicate. (I must confess, however, that I'm more a listener than a talker). In another context and in another time, he might be considered a language nationalist of some sort. However, in the modest environment of the kampung in Melaka, he is someone who does not want his traditions to disappear, perhaps because he grew up with them. He says his mother's milk is expensive. He imbibed the language from her.

He does not want to give his language up nor does he take easily to the fact that his community is clearly losing it -- young people in particular can understand it though they do not speak it as fluently as their parents. They prefer to talk in English and Malay. In fact Felix interrupts our conversation for about an hour to go and teach a Portuguese class to some of the kampung's young people. Voluntary work.

The lady who runs the restaurant where we are sitting and talking puts his beer bottle into the refrigerator. At one point, he was in doubt if he should take it along with him.

Perhaps everything is changing, and too fast. Noel is very religious, like all community elders I have spoken to so far. He goes off into a long tirade about morals and religion at the slightest provocation. I wonder how appealing that is for the younger generation.

The Portuguese community has always been an open group: the descendants of the Dutch in Melaka speak Portuguese too and are often counted as members of the community. (I don't believe anybody speaks Dutch in Melaka any more.) Noel still inveighs against the label Eurasian every now and then, his point being that it does not root people in any country, but is vague and general. It was a designation used by the British colonials, that was accepted by the community before it refashioned itself as Portuguese. Noel must have been a teenager when the identity shift took place. I am not aware of anyone in Melaka who calls himself or herself Eurasian, and there is certainly no visible community that claims that identity now.

The point Noel hammers home again and again is that the community is Portuguese, and Lusophone (i.e. Portuguese-speaking).

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Call for New Asian Short Stories

Call for New Asian Short Stories

Professor Kirpal Singh of Singapore Management University and Professor M.A. Quayum of International Islamic University Malaysia will coedit a new collection of Asian short stories. New and previously unpublished short stories are invited from writers of Asian origin/background or those writing about Asian life, culture and experience. Submissions should be sent to by 15 July 2014. The edited volume is expected to come out by the end of 2014.

Terms and conditions of entry:

1.     Writers must be of Asian origin/background or writing about Asian life, culture and experience.
2.     Submission ought to be new, unpublished and not submitted elsewhere.
3.     Each author is allowed to submit only one story.
4.     Stories must be in English, typed double-spaced in Times New Roman.
5.     Stories should not exceed 6000 words in length.
6.     Submissions in any other genre are not considered.
7.     Writers should include their name and a brief profile (100 words max.) on the cover page of the submission.
8.     No submissions will be accepted by post or after the deadline.
9.     Successful writers will be contacted on or before 30 September 2014.
10.  Further queries about the project should be sent to the email address above.

About the Editors

Kirpal Singh is a renowned poet and academic, and Director of the Wee Kim Wee Centre at the Singapore Management University.

M.A. Quayum is the author, editor or translator of 27 books. He is currently Professor of English at International Islamic University Malaysia and Adjunct Professor in the School of Humanities at Flinders University, Australia.

Please forward this to friend who might be interested.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Páscoa (Easter), 2010

(The author, Fernando Rosa Baragül, is a Brazilian anthropologist based in Kuala Lumpur and Melaka.)

Easter. There were so many people at St Peter's Church in Melaka (built in 1710 - two images on the right) that it was impossible to go in. It was not unlike an Easter procession in Brazil. Even as a child I had found that there was something slightly gloomy about processions. This one was no exception as it wound its way along the Melaka river early in the evening, with thousands of people, stopping and then starting again when someone gave a signal (usually by clapping hands). All those at the head of the procession were men. This compared well with my vague memories of its counterpart in Brazil. It was indeed a very male procession.

People said that it was the first time in many years that the procession has been allowed outside the church grounds, and they were excited. (In Brazil, processions normally proceed along the streets). Some people thought this was the first time in history that the procession was allowed onto the streets. But they were wrong. I learnt that as late as the late 1960s (and some years after that ), the Easter procession in Melaka was along the streets. It is intriguing how short historical memory is. It was something that had gone on for centuries, then stopped for a couple of recent decades by the government, and was already fading out of social memory. I was certain, however, that the Portuguese community - especially the older members - still remembered.

There was not much difference between this procession and the ones I had watched occasionally as a child (my family was not religious). There was one difference however, and it stood out  prominently: many of the participants in Melaka were not even Catholics. It was obviously a religious and social event that everyone participated in. It was the hub or fulcrum for Melaka's incredibly varied society. Someone told me that in old times people would carry large incense sticks used in Chinese temples instead of candles. I did not see any this time. There were only candles (and there were many sellers of these by the gate to the church grounds). Long candles of the same type I remembered from home; giving out light in the gloom.

I did not feel like staying on, however. It was hot and crowded, and somewhat too familiar to hold much fascination. It was funny how familiarity triggered disinterest. Nonetheless, it was all reassuringly familiar. It served as a point of reference, an anchor even, because of my own history. It was something so parochial that, at home, I would not have even given it a second thought. On the contrary, I would have shunned it for being boring.

Religion feels so different in Melaka when compared to Brasil. Here, it envelops everything, it's part of the social fabric. Religion here is as important as ethnicity, and commerce is thoroughly intertwined with both. It is funny how academics seem not to see it, and treat ethnicity as either part of politics or folklore. But it is part of neither. It is about being a part of the world -- being different in different ways. It is also not fixed, and that's why the Easter procession and the mass are Melaka events, not merely Portuguese ones. The Portuguese run the show, but it is for everybody.

It was also intriguing how many inquired later, over and over, whether I had witnessed it. They somehow also acknowledged my history as theirs.

Fernando Rosa Baragül has worked in the Caribbean, Cape Town, Kerala, and was, until 1999, in Macau. He is also interested in Dutch-Afrikaans, Arabic, and Malay writings, and the possible overlap between them.

His latest publications include a comparison between Brazil and Kerala in the rise of local literary canons and modernity; a bird's-eye-view of African language materials generated in South Africa in the twentieth century, and their racial underpinnings; and a book chapter (in Portuguese) comparing Cape Town and Melaka in terms of their history, urbanscape and people. His next publications will be a comparative study of two authors, namely Garcia d'Orta and Sheikh Zainuddin, one Jewish, the other Muslim, the former writing in Portuguese, the latter in Arabic, respectively in sixteenth century Goa and north Kerala.